To dare to hope

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It had not gone the way Kirya Tellador had expected. The room given to her was more than comfortable, if not quite up to the standard of a royal visit. It was a single room, for a start, rather than several, but it was well-equipped regardless with a high, canopied bed and a compact reception area with seats and a low table. The windows were double-layered against the northern winds, which almost certainly meant the room was intended for visitors from elsewhere in the valley. The locals would never expect or require such extravagant frippery. Kirya didn't much like the extremes of heat from the climate and the furnaces, or baying crowds watching blood pool on the sand in the arenas, but she couldn't deny their hardiness.

They wouldn't tell her anything. She had been locked in the room and still had not seen Tarn or anyone else, other than a young boy who brought her food and replenished a jug of water. The room was perched halfway up a tower, on the edge of what she knew to be the Lief fortress. She was in the heart of enemy territory. No doubt they would use her as a pawn to swing influence their way. Still, that was perhaps preferable to being sent to the quarries. They might keep her locked up in this tower forever, of course. Or send her back to Treydolain as a bargaining chip - though they probably overestimated her current worth.

She was wearing new clothes: nothing elaborate or courtly, but clean at least and lacking the layers of grime she'd accumulated trudging through the city - and clambering over rooftops with Tarn. Such a foolish thing to have done, and yet she barely regretted it now. Given the scale of her recent decisions, regret felt like a notion she'd long since evolved beyond. There were consequences upon consequences and she would deal with them as they assailed her.

The lock in the door clicked as the tumblers released. The door swung out, revealing a guard and another man, finely attired, both brightly lit by the morning sun that beat down upon the walkway beyond. She recognised the man instantly.

"Lord Halderman," she said, finding herself slipping instantly into the tone and posture of the court. "It has been too long since we have met."

Halderman stared at her with a fixed, forced smile, then he entered the room, hands clasped behind his back. "I am pleased to see you well, Princess Kirya. There have been many rumours circulating about your health and your whereabouts in recent times."

"I can imagine. There is indeed much to discuss."

He caught her eye, like a fish on a line. "Yes." He took a deep, tired breath. "Shall we dispense with the pleasantries, princess? I'm confident that you're not here on any diplomatic mission this time."

Her smile was thin and unamused. "If I were, I trust you would not have locked me in this room."

"We have never discovered royal guests scaling the towers," he said. "We are lacking in a clearly defined procedure for such an occurrence."

A distasteful silence hung in the air. Halderman held all the power, as was gapingly evident to both of them and the guard stationed outside. There seemed little point in playing games. "What are you to do with me, Lord Halderman?"

"I will do nothing, other than escort you. I recommend not attempting any further climbing. Please do try to remain on the defined pathways."

The walkway was inevitably cold, the morning wind biting and unforgiving. Stone walls either side prevented them from being blown over the edge and down towards the city below. On previous visits she had always regarded the Lief fortress as an embarrassing attempt to replicate or surpass the heights and grandeur of the Treydolain mesas - a doomed project from the start, of course. There was no surpassing of Treydolain: even with all that had happened, it was her home and always would be. That's what had kept her at Fenris' side, even as they journeyed far from the city.

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